What started like a dream has come to manifestation. The Zenith Bank- Delta State Division I League, the brain child of ex-Super Eagles player, Edema Fuludu has perhaps, grown faster than anticipated as 16 teams are jostling for honours.
The Delta State Sports Commission appointed Fuludu Chairman of the League Board. The ex-Super Eagles star spoke with our Correspondent on how he charted the rough tracks of beginning a new project to the height the fledgling league has attained through the intervention of the chairman, Delta State Sports Commission, Amaju Pinnick. Excerpts
Sir, how did it all start?
Well, the truth is that as an ex-footballer, I thought we could introduce some innovations into football starting from the micro level before we can go to the national level. I wouldn’t just jump to the national level to say I want to be the Secretary General of NFF and all that stuff.
So we must start from our base and I have an Executive Chairman, the Chairman of the Delta State Sorts Commission in the person of Amaju Pinnick who also understands where we are headed. We spoke and he said that he is going to give me the responsibility to organize the State League, as it is.
So I took time to think, sat with him and had fruitful discussion and we came out with this model to first organize a play-off that will produce teams that we can classify in the first division, second division and third division so that seeding could be done in the state properly.
If we have Warri Wolves in the Premier League and we also have J. Atete F.C. In the National Amateur League, we must have a state division 1, a division II and division III so that when we are doing seeding, people will know where they belong not by balloting.
The second step was how to go about it? We now asked clubs to register, we had 59 clubs in the state who registered and we said we must do play-off. We grouped them into different zones, Sapele was the first point. Seven teams came from there and two teams qualified. Everything was done on the basis of percentage so that no person will feel cheated. Eventually, Warri with 15 teams came out with 4 teams, a,b,c and d. The people that topped became the four teams representing Warri Zone. For now we have 16 teams and because of time factor, we will not play home and away basis because that will amount to each team playing 30 matches in the season. That would have stretched to next year. So we thought that the best option was to do an abridged league and the Chairman agreed.
First of all, he spoke with Zenith Bank to give us some assistance as a landing point for us to take off from. That granted, we felt we can now start to source for additional sponsorship so that we can push the game forward.
What have been the challenges before you got to this point?
Initially there was a lot of skepticism. Usually, when programmes like this are launched, sustaining the tempo becomes a big problem. So people generally welcomed this programme with skepticism. We also had the problem of financing. But when the Chairman of the Sports Commission gave me his word and said he was going to assist us to start before we can start running, we now decided to go ahead. So we went ahead, spoke to the clubs, told them to be firm, let them persevere with us.
We also had the issue of referees. Referees are stakeholders. When we offered them the money that was available, they thought that government must be pumping money into the system which was not true. So we said, please look at the accounts you are stakeholders.
If you help us, the coaches will improve, you referees will improve and we can have corporate sponsors to come and put money in the system so that we can have enough money to run it properly. So finance was a big challenge until the Chairman came in. the other issue was the issue of skeptics I talked about.
People were feeling that it was not possible but when we finished the play-offs and it was transparent and people qualified based on performance, they now accepted the league as genuine. I have a club called New Vision Academy, they did not qualify. So it gave a lot of credence to the fact that this people are transparent.
Zenith Bank is your title sponsors, what effort are you making to attract more sponsors?
We need you people – the press- because you are our eye as it is now. If you don’t report this thing, people will not even know what is happening. You will assist us. We have tried to speak to some corporate organizations; the thing is that they always want to see the league going on well before they can say it is is real.
They are also skeptical that this people may not be real but since we are doing this now and the fixtures are out, clubs are enthusiastic and we have started playing, I believe that when you report it, sponsors will start coming.
What will the winner of the League take home?
The winner of the league will have a cash prize of N500,00:00 because this is the beginning and as we progress we will look for more funds and improve.